Exercise and Cancer Part 1: Why exercise is a matter of life and death.

As you wake up this morning and read this blog, an average of 15 people in Alberta have already been diagnosed with cancer.  43 people in the next 24 hours will be told this one sentence that will change their lives and the lives of those around them entirely:

cancer-exercise-important“You have cancer.”

Take a look around today, because half of the people you interact with will be diagnosed with cancer.(1)  In our hyper-speed society there are still some things in life that will slow everything down to a halt. Life is precious and we must cherish every moment of it.

Over the next few weeks I’d like to focus part of our blogging on the current research on exercise and it’s effect on cancer both in prevention and as a component of it’s treatment.  We’re privileged here in Edmonton to have a world renowned cancer research facility, the Cross Cancer Institute, and we here at Blitz are proud to lend assistance in helping to raise funds for research projects through events like Bust a Move.

But I’d like to think that we are far more than a voice: we are part of the tool to both reduce the chances and treat cancer. I see fitness not as a method of weight loss (this is a byproduct), or only as a method to improve a persons performance or as lifestyle enhancement: I have see it as a tool, a drug, in treating chronic health conditions like cancer and cardiovascular disease, mental illnesses, and also as something that unites people on a common ground. So while people are worried about jean sizes and bikini bods, I’m primarily concerned about the effects of exercise in the context of holistic health. To paraphrase Bill Phillips:

Exercise is the most widely under-utilized drug.

Far too often we as a society speed forward failing to take a glimpse in the rear view mirror. We focus too much on what’s new and flashy without truly understanding that innovation is, in part, the ability to look at the elements in our lives and truly use them to their potential. Fitness and nutrition as a part in a treatment regimen for cancer has until recently been pushed aside as part of prevention and cure. Thankfully with the help of the amazing scientists and doctors at the Cross Cancer holistic health is a significant tool in treatment and prevention of this complex set of diseases.

Here’s the amazing part of clinical research: as of 2007 the average 5 year survival rate across all cancers is up to %68 and with some more common cancers this rate can go up to %90. (2) So with this progressively increasing survival rate, why look at holistic forms of treatment like exercise, nutrition, and mindfulness?

Because survival shouldn’t be the only goal.

Exercise is coming to the forefront in assisting the following topics in cancer research(3):

  • Prevention or at least reduction of chances of cancer
  • Quality of life of diagnosed individuals before, during, and post treatment
  • Use as a compliment to enhance current therapies
  • Reduce risk of recurrence
  • Extend survival

Here’s the spoiler… when we look at exercise in any connection with cancer the: amount, type, frequency, and period in which it’s appropriate to exercise all point to the inference that it should be done frequently, at relatively high intensity, and in as many diverse ways as possible. Ultimately it depends on what the person can handle in conjunction with their current therapies. The convention of lots of bed rest during cancer therapy is progressively being replaced with the idea that exercise, like any other drug, needs to be given throughout the treatment.  I’m excited to be hitting the primary literature and summarizing the up to date research in the field of cancer research for all of you!

As always comments and suggestions are always welcomed, and if you have a chance donate to our Bust A Move Team by clicking on the BaM Logo here:



(1) http://albertacancer.ca/43, accessed Feb 3, 2014

(2) http://report.nih.gov/nihfactsheets/viewfactsheet.aspx?csid=75, acessed Feb 9, 2014

(3) Courneya, K. Exercise in Cancer Survivors: An Overview of Research. Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise. 2003, 1846 – 1852.


About Chris Tse

I’m a scientist turned owner of Blitz Conditioning, a Fitness Columnist at CBC Radio on Thursdays at 8:20 am, and owner of Tse Social Strategy. Follow me on Twitter or Read my full bio.

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